Below is the story of how Gita Abramson Bereznitzky (Gita's grandfather was Shmuel Naividel) survived the war, trapped in Kovno at the start of the war and living and surviving in the Kovno Ghetto until it was finally liberated. Part of her story she wrote down in Yiddish and read it to Regina Borenstein Naividel on Friday, November 16, 1994. Regina also asked her for additional details. Regina taped her while reading and questioning, and then translated her story.
She and also Regina were very moved while listening to her story. Again, only some miracles caused her to survive this horrible time.
THE HORRIBLE DAYS
The Story of Gita Abramson Bereznitzky
as told to and translated by Regina Borenstein Naividel
How I saved myself from the Kovno Ghetto at the time of the destruction of the ghetto. It was in the last days of the liquidation of the Kovno Ghetto in July 1944. I am Gita Abramson Bereznitzky, born on August 8, 1919, in the town Yurburg, Lithuania.
In the beginning of June 1941 I had come to Kovno from Shaulai for an operation. The war broke out while I was still in the Jewish Hospital of Kovno. I was able to walk again, so I went to my sister Bela, who then lived in Kovno on Vilnaer street. We realized that we could not escape, and therefore we stayed in Kovno. We moved into the Ghetto in August 1941. I remained in the Ghetto from August 1941 until July 1944, from the beginning to the end, that is, from the the time when it was established until the destruction of the Kovno Ghetto. In the Ghetto I was recruited to the illegal anti-fascist partisan organization, led by the writer Chaim Jelin (Chaim Yellin became was ultimately captured by the Gestapo and died in their hands, possibly by suicide - according to Avraham Tory in his book Surviving the Holocaust - The Kovno Ghetto Diary page 500 ) . As a member of the organization I obeyed every command. Since I was fair-haired, and looked like a non-Jew, I became a courier, a person who could easily pass in and out of the Ghetto without wearing the yellow star. Among those things that I did, I would go to the home of a non-Jewish woman in our organization, Mania Lishinzkene, a Lithuanian. She also was a courier and lived in Slabotke Viliampole, at 14 Ragutsha Street. She had a flat, where the responsible leaders of government and Ghetto organizations would meet, along with partisans and secret weapon dealers. At the end of June 1944, I was living at 8 Brolu Street in the Ghetto. This is the place where the fence was located (the border of the Ghetto) - on one side was Brolu street, and on the other side, outside the Ghetto, was a cemetery. Here it was easy to pass, but in order to pass, someone had to watch. Pesach Shatel and Joshke Mikles would watch when I would pass. Our friends Dima Gelpern (he still lives in Vilna), Lucy Zimmerman, Rochel Padeson lived together with me. It was right next to the Catholic cemetery. We were separated from the cemetery by a barbed wire fence, through which I would pass to go into the city without wearing the yellow star.
Before the liquidation of the Ghetto, we, the surviving members of the organization, stayed in the Ghetto in a hiding place. In this hiding place, Dima Gelpern, (who now lives in Vilna), Pesach Shate (died) and Nina Finkelstein (died) , Dr. Brauns with his family, myself and others stayed together. On July 13, 1944 the Germans discovered our hiding place. They ordered all of us to leave and to stand up in lines of four people in a row, and told us that we would be led to work. While standing in the row, I decided I would escape given the first opportunity. Each of us had one bottle of water, and a loaf of bread, but I gave this away. I didn't take it so that I could run more quickly. While we were being led through the Ghetto, I recognized Mania Lishinzke standing on the other side of the street. She also recognized me, and shouted to me: "Genia" (and she motioned to me with her hand). I had from the beginning decided that I had to risk an escape. While we were led through Panjeru Street and near a big garden, I quickly left the row and started to run. While running, I heard a shot, and at that moment I threw myself into a field of tall potato plants. I quickly threw away my coat with the yellow star, got up and continued to run. While I was running, a young Lithuanian ran after me and told me to stop. I thought that this was my end. He came running up to me and asked me whether I knew a woman named Sara and where she was. I answered him that I did not know her and continued running. In this moment, I saw that Nina Finkestein was running with me, and both of us turned in the direction to Mania's house. Mania was waited for us at her door, so that she could take us immediately to her hiding place, which was under the steps leading to her house. All this happened on July 13, 1944. In the same night, Lucy Zimmerman came to us; she had run from Alexot. All of us were very happy to have escaped and to be together. We slept over night and the next morning, one of us saw two German soldiers through the window. We crept into the hiding place, but Lucy went out through the door. (She looked Jewish). She crept through the fence into Mania's garden and hurt her foot. Later, she went to the Ghetto and saw that the Ghetto was burning. All this we heard only later. While there, the Russian collaborators recognized her. She was a very good looking, dark-haired, Jewish looking woman. Her foot was bleeding. They approached her and asked her for her documents, but unfortunately, she did not have any documents. She pointed to the house and told them that she lived there. When they came back to the house, Lucy asked Mania for the document, and said that Mania was her sister. "Mania, you are my sister" she cried, "give me the passport, help me." We were lying in the hiding place, and heard all that was being said above our heads. Mania called in one of the soldiers and offered him money, but he said that the older one was the commander and if he would take money, he also would agree. Unfortunately, when the second one entered the house, and heard that she offered him money, he shouted at her and said " you are a Jew too and you have to come with us." Mania also looked Jewish. Mania with her little son, Lucy and the soldiers left to the Ghetto. They were already standing against the wall waiting to be shot, when a Lithuanian neighbor of Mania's came after them and swore that she was not Jewish. Then, a German approached her and asked her for her passport. Mania answered that it was in her house in the cupboard. The German soldiers, Mania with the child and Lucy came back from the Ghetto to the house. The door of the cupboard was pulled open and Mania showed the Germans her passport. The Germans said to her: "Sorry, dear lady." Afterwards they left with Lucy to go back to the Ghetto. Lucy was shot afterwards. Lucy had called: "Mania, you are my sister. Give me the passport." Until today, I can hear these words in my ears, but nobody could help her. This was the end of the second day after the escape.
We heard through the floor what Mania said to herself: " Poor Lucy, such a good woman, what a tragedy." Afterwards, Mania opened one of the planks and told me to come out. She told me: "Genia, I have to talk to you. You see that my house is being watched, so you will have to leave." We stayed overnight and the next day she contacted friends in the city and one of them Mikolas Mustekin (this was his pseudonym) gave us an address in Kovno at 4 Lukshe Street, and the name of someone named Mattas. We did not know who Mattas was. The next day Mania dressed us up and brought us to Mattas using a different route. We arrived at a flat on the second floor. The owners of the flat had left for the country and gave it to their comrade Mattas, who carried a walking stick and wore blue glasses pretending to be blind. He greeted us and was very friendly to us. He cooked small flour dumplings for us. Mania and her son Vitas brought us food and cigarettes. Mania was like a mother to us, and her children were like our brothers and sisters. The oldest son Tadas and Vitas, the middle one treated us very well, without getting anything in return. All this was seemed quite natural for them, when in fact, they continually risked their lives for us.
A few days before the liberation of Kovno, which occurred on July 27, 1944, our dear friend Mattas did not come home to spend the night. We were very afraid and concerned and could not understand what had happened. The lock of the outer door was not in order, and so it was easy to enter the flat. Our window on the second floor was exactly opposite the gate of the courtyard. Nina and I decided that one of us would sleep and the other one would watch to see who would enter through the gate. When I was watching, I saw that Germans soldiers entered the courtyard. This was early in the morning. They knocked on the windows and called: "Get up, come out to work." I woke up Nina and we decided to creep into the attic, which could be locked with a key. We agreed that if they found us, we would say that we had escaped from Vilna, from the Russians. Then we waited in silence. Suddenly we heard a woman at the door say: "You, old man, don't have to be afraid. They are only looking for people who can work." To the Germans she said: "There is only an old man living here, and he is not at home." It was our luck that they left. From the anxiety I had very strong stomach cramps. I crept out of the attic and on my belly crept to the toilet. When I left the toilet I noted the sofa in the front room. I lifted the seat and saw that it contained a chest that was empty except for some soft potatoes. I told this to Nina and we decided that we had to hide in the chest in the sofa, and wait until dark until the siege ended. That is what we did. While we lay in the sofa, I put a soft potato between the lid of the chest and the seat, so that we would have air to breathe. We could not stop thinking about what might have happened to Mattas. Maybe he betrayed us? Later we heard a woman come to the flat looking for the old man. She spoke as if to herself: "Don't be afraid, the Germans have already left." I saw her feet through the opening. I cannot recall how long we were in the chest. Suddenly we heard the old man Mattas entering the flat with his stick. He went to the parrot which was in a cage and noticed that the plaid cloth which was on the sofa was in a different position than before. He opened the sofa and saw us. What happiness that he had found us! With tears in his eyes he repeatedly said: "My dear girls, my good children." He told us that that night when he was coming home, he was called to work on the streets. He played a bit, pointing at his blue glasses and saying that he was totally blind and therefore could only walk with the stick and could not work. Thus, they let him go home. He was sure that they had already found us and taken us away. How happy he was to find us! The same day Mania's son Vitas came to us and brought us food. We asked him to have Mania take us back to her house and that is what happened. She again came to us, dressed us up and brought us to the river. Tadas brought us to the other side of the river, one at a time with a small boat. We could not pass the Slabotka bridge, because one had to show documents which we did not have. When we came to Mania, we met a Jewish man who was also hiding there. Mania had found him in a public toilet and taken him in to her house. She called him the "shitty one", because he was full of dirt when she found him. On July 31 at night Mania went out to the street and noted that it was totally quiet. Suddenly she noticed the Red Army. She started to call and we all left the house. We all run to the Soviet soldiers on the street and out of joy kissed and hugged them, not knowing what else to do. It is impossible to describe our joy. This we will always remember and tell that only because of them were we save.
I will never forget our dear "mother" Mania Lishinzke and her children who lived 14 Ragucha1Street. Mania died on August 20, 1956 , from an abscess. We sttended her funeral, and accompanied her to her final resting place.
(Regina then asked Gita about the time before the war)
"I was in the Shomer HaZair (Young Watchman - a Zionist organization). I studied at the Gymnasium (secular high school) in Yurburg and I showed you the picture of my class. My best friend in Yurburg was Nuna Chaimovitch. In the Gymnasium we would dance together. I was the girl and she was the "Kozak". In Yurburg we spent a lot of time with the family. Meyerelie Naividel, my mother's first cousin, (and grandfather of your husband Benny Naividel) would come every Friday to our house. Also our friends from school would come - our house was always open and friendly. On Friday my mother would always prepare grey peas. It was a tradition. We would talk then and sing together ."
"I was very active in several youth organizations. Then, in 1938 I went to Kovno. Before that I had worked in the Jewish Bank in Yurburg, with Sundelovitch. Afterwards he left for Kovno - there was a factory "Guma", and he was the main bookkeeper there. When he left, he asked me also to come. I worked there from 1938 and in 1940 I was sent to Shavel (Shaulai) in a department of Guma. I worked in this department. Later, the Soviets came and I was transferred from the department in Guma to the "Prokturatur", where I worked in the secretarial department. I worked there until I left for Kovno in June 1941 for my operation. I was there when the war started. My sister Bela lived in Kovno. I went to live with her. We left her flat and since it was late we went to a cellar on the street and were sitting there. Then, we asked ourselves what we were waiting for and so we left the cellar and went back to the flat, because I was still very weak. Shortly afterwards, the cellar was burned down. While sitting in her flat we were afraid, since I was an activist. My mother sent us a letter through somebody - my father was not alive any more by then. On July third the best Jewish men of Yurburg were gathered and murdered. My mother was still alive. She wrote that the "little one" should watch out, since she knew about my activities. Afterwards, my mother was also murdered. When the Ghetto was opened, Bela and I went there and found a place to stay at 5 Ershvuko Street, and we lived there. My sister and I worked. I worked on the airport and in the brigade. Bela married. Together with her husband Yosef Kaplan, she was taken to Alexot and from there to the concentration camp in Stutthof (they now live in Israel). I stayed in the Ghetto, in the organization. A lot of people left to join the partisans, but I was told that they needed me in the Ghetto, because I was fair-haired and could easily leave the Ghetto and act as a courier."
"After the war I remained in Kovno and worked in the orphanage as a bookkeeper. In the beginning I was again called to work in the Prokuratur. There I worked as a secretary. They paid very little. In the Jewish orphanage I would get food as well, therefore I returned to work there. I did not have anything. Afterwards I left to live in Vilna. There I worked in a department of the Ministry of Health. Josef and I met at the end of 1946 and we were married so thereafter. In 1947 my son Aaron (Alik) was born. After my marriage and the birth of my son, I worked in various places as a bookkeeper. I also worked in a furniture department. I worked until I was 57 years old. On June 28, 1990 we came to live in Israel."
Gita had written on Oct. 15, 1994, "During the war I was in the Kovno Ghetto together with my sister Bella. We went through an awful lot. Bella was also in the Stuthoff Concentration camp. I escaped from the Kovno Ghetto on July 13, 1944, the day they liquidated the Ghetto in Kovno. I was lucky enough, with the help of a Lithuanian woman, to hid out because I don't really look Jewish. After my sister Bella was freed from the camp, we both resided in Vilna. ....Bella and I with our families are now residing in Israel for the last four years."
Gita Abramson Bereznizky now lives with her husband Yosef in Kiron, Israel. They immigrated to Israel from Vilna in 1990.
Regina Naividel also found and provided a translation mentioning Gita Abramson and her work in the Kovno ghetto during the war.The book only exists in Yiddish and Hebrew. The following is a free translation by Regina Borenstein Naividel from In Storm and Fight, by Alex Feitelson (Alter) published by J.L. Peretz in 1994, page 309.
...."In order to keep in contact with the town, from where the guides would come, they were in need of a save place near the ghetto. This safe place was found in the home of Maria Lishzinskiana. Maria lived near the ghetto and was dedicated to the anti-fascist movement. Her home turned into a place where groups from the town would gather. She was in constant contact with the communicator from the ghetto, Gita Abramson, who lived in the ghetto at 8 Brulio Street, near the Christian Cemetery. Gita and Maria met every day at one o'clock at the fence of the Christian Cemetery and Maria passed to her all the infomation from the town, letters and some times even ammunition for rifles and pistons.
When Maria had to communicate something important she would put out a colored handerchief on her roof: black - showing that nobody should come near the house; green - signaling that the area was "clean"; white - indicating that someone should come immediately. Gita could see the handkerchief from far away. She would go to Maria Lishzinskiana's home through a hole in the fence of the Christian Cemetery, with the help of commrades - Pesah Shater and Josef Michels. They also helped her reenter the ghetto.....
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